Monday, November 28, 2011

Car Conundrum

Here in good ole Deutschland we have to have winter tyres usually from October until Easter (O to O* as the saying goes) which is great, the winter tyres are much grippier and therefore safer, if you have an accident when you should have winter tyres on and you've still got your summer tyres on you will have a hell of a job getting your insurance company to pay up (so we're warned).

So every October the tyre garages are all crazy busy changing everyone's wheels and storing them away somewhere ready for spring when they'll be mad busy again. Sometimes they sell out of winter tyres (so I've been told) although once you have a set, unless you're doing huge mileage (or donuts in the local carpark on a Sunday) the 2 sets of tyres should last a fair while.

We've just decided to buy a new car, a Mini Countryman will be mine just before Christmas (hopefully), we've spent time choosing the colour (NOT black or silver (Simon's 2nd choice) and he wont let me have the yellow ("think of the resale value Verena") but I am allowed "Surf Blue"**) and various other twiddly bits and also some nice wheels - no point having a sexy paint job if you're going to stick a set of rims on that look like dustbin lids, trust me, I'm a part-time petrol head. The sexy wheels the car comes with are its summer wheels and so we have to arrange winter wheels either through the dealer or through the tyre garage that normally stores my this means that if we don't get the dealer to change the wheels for us prior to driving away the sheeny shiney new car we'll be taking it home (30 minutes from one side of the city to the other) on winter roads*** with summer tyres and therefore dubious insurance. We discussed this at the dealership with the salesman, angling for him to offer to come and drop off the new car and take away the old, but no, I guess we didn't have a particularly strong bargaining position seeing as it was +10C outside, maybe closer to the date, when I ring and tell him that no, I'm not going to drive over and collect my new car and pay him for it because the roads are too dicey, maybe then he'll reconsider.

Of course the other problem is that we have to change the winter wheels on the old car back to summer wheels before taking it to the dealer in part ex, because they only buy/sell cars in summer condition. Great, so I have to get the tyre garage to change the wheels on the car we're part ex-ing, put the old winter wheels in my garage to try to flog them on ebay**** and then drive said car across the city before driving the new car home and taking it straight to the tyre garage for its winter make under.

So, winter wheels, great in theory and in practice, but (mental note to self) try to only buy/sell a car in the summer, it's so much less hassle.

Anyone need any slightly worn winter wheels? Collection only.

* Easter = Ostern.
** the majority of cars here are black, those that aren't black are silver, other colours can be seen but if you're having a car colour counting competition with a small child, then black wins.
*** at that time last year we had 30 cms of snow, at least, everywhere, with sub zero temperatures and no respite in sight.
**** have no idea how strong the demand is for 2nd hand winter wheels, let alone in mid Dec when everyone sensible/law abiding is already sitting smug.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Snaps 89

The Christmas markets have started here - this is the view from the top of the Riesenrad (big & flipping freezing wheel). No snow as yet so only just cold enough for glühwein.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shocking Germans

I had a lovely morning today, frühstücking* with a couple of German friends. They're both mothers whose sons are friends with my son and so be default they've become my friends too. They're both lovely ladies, who both have a good understanding of English (although not necessarily of the English, which is a different matter altogether) and tolerate my wholesale massacring of their mother tongue.

We had a good, long, leisurely breakfast, starting at 8.30 and leaving around 11 - we made sure to get our money's worth out of Enzo's (the café) and we were maybe a little too loud for some of the (older) clientele - two ladies on an adjacent table pointedly moved to the other side of the room, while muttering under their breath, which just led Bettina to comment that she wasn't aware we were still in school. To be honest, the ladies got off lightly, if I'd been there with my usual frühstück crew (Brits and Yanks) the noise level would have been far greater amd the subject matter far seedier.

It's amazing what three women can find to chat about over breakfast (especially one that lasts 2.5 hours) we covered everything from sex starved OAPs (and how to deal with then) to teenage boys starting to get interested in girls, touching on organic ways of getting rid of moths, what we provide (or not) our families with for food whilst they're at work/school**, whether a child should choose Latin or French as their second subject at the age of 11 (oddly enough I was advocating Latin, mainly because the child is struggling with English and at least with Latin you don't (in theory) have to speak it) and what our variously aged children are asking for for Christmas (everything from "whatever", to a list that would keep Saint Nick and his elves busy for more than one night).

At one point my German was in free flow and Bettina paused to exclaim that I'd just used the "plus quam perfect tense" (or as the English know it, the pluperfect or past perfect) - I'm not sure who was more shocked, Bettina, clearly thinking that such advanced grammar should be beyond me (I must have got all the verbs in the right order for once!) or Ingrid and I for realising that Bettina can hear a tense and label it, just like that (I don't think she was a grammar teacher BC, maybe she's just naturally swotty?) This led us onto a loud and amusing discussion about German tenses, with a debate about the Konjunktive II - I declared it to be all but dead (I remember reading and translating an article all about it, where the author referred to this particularly nasty piece of grammar as an almost extinct animal in the zoo) so I happily likened the Konjunctive II to the black rhino. They were not convinced however which led us onto forms of the K II, how can you possibly take a tense seriously that turns the verb to eat (essen) into "äßen"?

Breakfast with a grammar lesson, how very Deutsch!

* breakfasting - teaching you Denglish now.
** the German way seems to be "butterbrot", sandwiches with cheese, ham, nutella or chocolate***
*** by chocolate I literally mean chocolate, in the supermarkets you can buy packets of chocolate which is in thin sheets, designed specifically for going between two pieces of bread - mad.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rendered Speechless

Sometimes, just sometimes, I'm rendered speechless.

This happens frequently when I'm trying to make a point in German, I know exactly the point I want to make but my brain realises that I don't know a particular word halfway through the phrase, there then follows a pause while my brain frantically recalculates another way of saying the same thing - it's amazing that I can still manage to crack jokes in German.

Last week I was speechless in my own language and that takes some doing, vast quantities of alcohol or sleep will do the trick but shock? Rarely.

We were at a school do (just Jas's class, so 23 kids plus assorted siblings and parents) to hear all about the fun that they'd had on their weeklong school trip a month ago. They had all had an amazing time and were keen to share it with us, I don't quite fully understand why the sharing had to be so wholesale, a little careful editing would have worked wonders, but hey, I didn't have anything else planned for those four hours...

During the break before the finale (video of the week's activities) we had supper* and so had to make small talk with other parents, fun. Both Rebecca and I managed to avoid sitting at any tables (not too hard to achieve as there were more people than seats) until the class teacher pointed out some free seats and we were forced to pull them over and occupy them or look very anti-social. Rebecca's younger daughter was sitting with us wearing her lovely new bright purple Boden duffle coat, over an equally loud Boden skirt. The teacher turned to Elsa and commented on her pretty coat. The remark was then made that it was from the English company Boden (which is available here either through the UK website or the German one). Which set the mother next to me on her high horse. She declared that that brand was expensive, to which we retaliated that quality comes at a cost, if the conversation had been in English she'd have got a whole lot more than that simple answer because I feel quite strongly about the fact that not only do cheaper goods not last but frequently the people involved in the manufacture are often underage and underpaid. She, being better at German (although not native) than either Rebecca or I, then continued her rant about expensive clothing before changing tack and exclaiming over the paucity of clothing being worn by Elsa in the depths (ha!) of winter - tights and a skirt and no vest and the tights weren't even thermal ones. No wonder the child is so thin she declared, using all her energy to maintain her body temperature (this in full hearing of said child) does she never get stomach ache, she asked, seeing as how her stomach isn't properly insulated with the necessary 3 layers of clothing**?

This rant (I'd say conversation, but it was so one sided that rant is more appropriate) annoyed me so much that I tuned out and turned away, eventually getting up and therefore missing the comment from the teacher, who maybe thought to diffuse the atmosphere. He turned to Rebecca and referring to Elsa's chic coat and skirt combo commented that he hadn't realised the English could be so stylish...

We're still (five days later) trying to work out if he was trying to make a joke or whether it was a back handed compliment, whilst the comment from my husband was "doesn't say much for what you and Rebecca wear, does it?" Grrrrrrr.

* or rather "Abendbröt" (literally "evening bread" because that's what the evening meal is traditionally, bread and ham/cheese)
** us English mothers are considered pretty lax parents by our German counterparts I think - our children never have vests on, rarely wear hats and don't possess thermal long johns, I keep trying to explain that the English are clearly much hardier than the Germans!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Snaps 88

Christmas is coming* and the cake (or at least the fruit for the cake - which is the main constituent of said cake afterall) is getting fed (brandy). In a week's time it should have absorbed enough to be combined into its final form...

* which, according an app on my phone, is today just 34 days away - cue screaming and mad panic!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Swiftlet saliva and other trivia

We had another Expats Pub Quiz last night courtesy of our soon to be ex expat Ian, we have just one Ian penned quiz left (the Christmas Special - I wonder if it will be a special along the lines of British soap Christmas specials where there's always high drama involving births/deaths/fires/ambulances and the like or whether it will be a special along the lines of those dodgy flavours that make an appearance only in the festive season - chestnut & prune soup anyone?) However all is not lost, we have people fighting over the quiz rights it would seem, there is an Australian faction and an American faction, both vying for the mentoring facilities of Mr Hookham...we'll have to wait and see.

It was another well attended evening, nine teams in all, with people from Mexico, Singapore, Australia, America, England and even the odd (well they'd have to be, wouldn't they, to want to attend an expats English pub quiz evening which is geared towards native English speakers) German. We're a diverse crowd, with even more diverse bakcgrounds which makes it impressive that every month Ian comes up with a quiz that frustrates all of us to the right degree, no-one gets a full house (a fact that torments a certain person* every month) and at the same no-one gets too frustrated with the questions - although there is a lot lost in translation, even when we all speak English perfectly some countries just don't play the same games and have the same rules.

Last night we had a food round, and I think this caused the most upset;
Q: What is added to yorkshire pudding to make toad in the hole?
The Mexican/Venezualan team were dumbfounded, they had no idea what yorkshire pudding was and certainly not a clue about toad in the hole. Their answer was "pastry"...having refused to follow our suggestion of "frogs".

Q: Name the soup traditionally made from the saliva of a swiftlet.
A swiftlet? As in a baby swift? We couldn't begin to imagine how you would even get saliva out of a baby bird, let alone how many you would need to "milk" in order to make a bowl of soup...

Q: What's the word beginning with P given to thin lentil crackers?
We had no clue, as a fully fledged non veggie I never knowingly eat lentils and so have no idea what they can be used for...Kamesh or Rebecca would have been useful at this point but neither was at Lulu's last night, one was babysitting and one sun bathing (Hawaii, no less, not jealous honest, he'll so suffer when he returns to the minus temperatures that have developed here in his absence!)

Other perplexing (for some) questions last night were;

Q: Name a playing token in Monopoly that you can wear.
Of course, nowadays there are versions of Monopoly to cover every eventuality but Ian was quick to qualify that he meant the "traditional" edition, so discounting Disney tutus (I'm sure that doesn't exist) and also Rachael's roller skate.

Q: Which city is closer to the equator, New York or Istanbul?
My geography is rubbish, but I had my secret weapon with me (Simon, whose brain is like a sponge for useless facts) and still failed to get it right.

Q: What does LBW in cricket stand for?
The Brits (and the Aussie) all knew this, unsurprisingly the Mex/Ven team hadn't a clue and only got the "wicket" part - which amused me no end.

Q: Captain Flint was whose pet?
I didn't know this, although my non reader of a secret weapon did, I guess Treasure Island got read to him during his childhood, although as there are also various film versions maybe that's how he knew, because I'd bet my boots on him never actually having read the book.

Q: How many points are there on the star of a Chinese Checker board?
Huh? We didn't even know what Chinese Checkers was (sorry Dad)...which feels really silly now that I've googled it and seen it...ho hum, another point lost.

Q: If in Poker you have 3 cards of one and 2 of another, what is this known as?
Ian is a "keen" poker player, so it was only a matter of time before we were tormented by some poker jargon. We went through all the poker terms we knew, discounting them until we ended up with the right answer, although it's a good job we didn't realise there were so many different poker hands or we'd still be debating!

It was a fun night, as ever.

We'll miss our Quizie Rascal when he's gone. The successor will have a lot to live up to!

* lives in Isenbügel, has 3 kids - you know who you are!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Home or away?

We've got to the point in Germany where we've been here long enough that stuff is breaking/wearing out/being out grown and needing to be replaced.

There are two options - replace like with like by sourcing from England or go local.

There are issues with both of these options...

- One of my Jamie Oliver stainless steel saucepans has decided to start leaking, you wouldn't think it possible would you, but the way the handle is fixed on means that it can and does leak through the fixing points (it's part of a set of three, so I'm guessing the others are going to have to be replaced sooner or later). Clearly this could easily be sourced locally and needed to be seeing as I need the pan NOW and the weight and feel of the pan is important and you can't get that impression over the internet. I interrogated one shop assistant about their pans and was told that they only offered pans of that size (I'm talking small/medium pan, 1-1.5 litre, the size that is useful for everything) with two little handles rather than one long sticky out one. But I wanted what I'd had, and what I'd had was one long sticky out handle. So I gave up on that store and decided to go somewhere else with more choice.
Same answer.
Apparently in Germany they only come with two handles over a certain size, so I had to bite the bullet and go native.

- I recently had to buy Ben a new duvet. We're having to accept the fact that at 14 he's growing up and therefore he has a new (slightly bigger) bed and new paint job on the walls and new duvet cover - the old UK ones were thought to be too juvenile (he had a point, planets and graffiti are aimed more at the younger boy and therefore childish and 'not cool'). I tried to get a duvet from M&S - they are quite happy to deliver abroad, but duvets are clearly the exception (of course you only find this out after spending some time choosing what you want, adding to the order and then getting to the checkout point. Grrrrrr). So I had to get the duvet and cover here. Not such a problem, although the duvet cover choice can be a little dull, then I had to get the duvet to fit in the cover and discovered that it was a good job that M&S didn't deliver duvets abroad as it wouldn't have fitted into the cover. I was informed that in Germany there are three duvet sizes; small (single/1 person) medium (almost a double/1-2 people or 1 very wriggly teen) and large. So I have the correct sized duvet for the cover but what I don't understand is why it doesn't look as if it fits, maybe I need to rotate the duvet through 90 degrees?

- The pillows in our house were getting old and decrepit and had to be replaced. Another tricky thing to source over the internet as again you need to test them, so we have to go local. The problem here is that the continentals have weird ideas when it comes to head/neck support in bed. You either go for something that is almost a metre square (which most people apparently double over) or you go for something that is a little longer than the standard UK rectangular pillow and also a little narrower. Fortunately this narrower pillow still fits in our existing English pillow cases, although they don't look as athetically pleasing, but as I'm not planning on entering a Good Homes competition they'll do, just.

- Wellies were one of the first things I had a problem with here. As a dog owner and walker (the two go hand in hand) wellies are an integral part of my autumn/winter/spring attire. I had a lovely pair of red wellies from England that expired after one year of German mud - which I think must be excessively corrosive (certainly wouldn't want to use it for a face pack), so I replaced them with a locally sourced pair (afterall when your boots start to leak they have to be replaced pretty damn fast) but these also lasted only one winter, fortunately then we were in late spring and had a week in England planned for the summer. My lilac Hunter wellies were collected on the trip and are still going strong, clearly impervious to German mud.

Of course the dilemma of buying locally or sourcing from the UK is only possible due to the ever spreading internet, it does make the transition smoother and less arduous. I just wish it was as worldwide as it's supposed to be - but that's a whole other story!

Friday, November 11, 2011


At eleven o'clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month the Commonwealth* pauses.

I don't have a poppy to wear this year and it seems rather tawdry to recycle last years, but I have made a point of making a donation online.

As I get older the significance of this particular day seems to increase to me, and I don't know why, unless it's the growing awareness of my own humanity and the fragility of life. It's not even as if my family were hugely impacted by the first or second World Wars. My father was just old enough to have to do National Service, but fortunately** just young enough that he missed any action (his photos of the time show him against a backdrop of pyramids) and the only tales I ever heard whilst growing up were rather scurrilous ones from my Uncle Harry who'd been in the Navy and served on the same warship as Prince Philip (Uncle H didn't have a good word to say).

If I were in England this week and this coming weekend I would be wearing my poppy with pride, observing the silence at 11 am and quite probably watching with pride as my children marched to the local cenotaph alongside the other guides/scouts/cubs/brownies and local servicemen. It's at that point I would struggle to keep emotions in check as the lone trumpeter played the Last Post.

Lest we forget.

* as well as other countries who got tied up with trying to keep the world free.
** choosing to be a rear gunner was probably not the wisest move he ever had, as they apparently had the shortest life span in the War.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wine o'clock

This morning I spent a very pleasant few hours at the local Essen exhibition hall. This week is the "Mode, Heim und Handwerk*" exhibition and Emma had free tickets courtesy of her wine supplier (who had a stand there). Emma and Laura (at 20 months old she gets no say in where she goes and what she does, she justs gets to sit in her buggy) picked me up just before ten and we were at the messe** shortly after the doors opened.

We started off in Hall 1, "fashion, beauty and wellness***", there was a reasonable amount of grey/brown/sludge coloured ruffled fashion (steered a wide birth there) alternative (i.e. brands I didn't recognise) make up stands, hair accessories (both Emma and I have hair that is too short for such things) scarves (the Germans are OBSESSED with scarves and I have to report that it is contagious, I now have two drawers full of different coloured scarves, before moving to Germany I had maybe two scarves. But scattered amongst all this health 'n beauty were many wine tasting stands as well as many food stands (dried fruit, würst, cheese, bread, chocolate, more würst) and the very first wine stand we came across was the company that had sent Emma the free tickets and so we felt honour bound to take a seat and sample a few (is eight/ten a few? Or is that a couple more than a few?) bottles of wine. The poor guy who got stuck with us must have cursed his luck, first there was the small child in the buggy who insisted on tipping her (non alcoholic) grape juice over herself, her buggy, the floor around us and quite probably passers by, but she did keep quiet (as long as we kept her occupied with pretzels) and then there was the fact that Emma and I are both English. Fortunately for him we both liked the Columbard white wine and two of the reds so we left the stand on the hunt for coffee with an Auftrag in hand that says we'll be receiving 30 bottles of wine shortly for us to divide between us.

After the wine we meandered our way through Hall 2, "living & free-time" which didn't seem to be that much different to Hall 1, less 'fashion' maybe but the same amount of food and drink stands, through to Hall 5, which was "Africa". Probably the most bizarre part of the exhibition, the stands were full of displays of the kind of stuff you might think it amusing to buy on holiday - eight foot tall wooden giraffe (although tricky to bring back on a plane) dresses and skirts in the colours of the South African flag, stuff (baskets and possibly mats - I didn't look too closely) made from coke bottle tops welded together, weird. Onto Halls 10&11 which were deadly dull, "building and technical" - garage doors, marble steps, fire places and then we were through to Hall 12 and Christmas.

All in all it was a pleasant way to spend a morning, although I don't think either of us would have paid the 7euro for the experience but as a freebie, why not?!

* Mode = fashion, Heim = home, Handwerk = handicraft
** messe = exhibition hall
*** wellness is one of those dinglish words that really grates on me, what they mean is not beauty or cosmetics but rather things that make you feel...'well', a massage chair or aromatherapy for example...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pizza for Tea

I think Rome could well be my favourite city. Paris is romantic, New York is cool but Rome, Rome is something else. Beautiful buildings - everywhere, narrow streets - everywhere, gorgeous shops and little cafés - everywhere. The food is incredible, the wine even more so and even the men are pretty to look at! And don't get me started on the depth of history! I need to return, soon.

Some things that struck me last weekend:
  • Rome must surely be considered to be the heart of the Catholic faith and yet pretty much all the shops were open on Sunday, and the city was heaving that day, more so than on the other days we were there.
  • the Spanish Steps seem to be treated not just as THE place to see and be seen and pose for photos but also as an open bin/toilet - judging by the amount of litter needing to be cleared away in the morning and by the stench.
  • there were possibly more smokers there than in Germany - although at least in Rome there's no smoking in the restaurants.
  • American tourists could be recognised by their shorts and trainers combos and the Germans by their functional Jack Wolfskin apparel.
  • an afternoon can easily be whiled away sitting in a café watching the guys selling knock off designer bags trying to keep one step ahead of the cops, with a secret signal they suddenly all scoop up their goods and run off, one after the other, often hiding behind the stalls of legitimate market holders, emerging only when the police have walked by.
  • on the Friday bike ride I had possibly the most fun when I came up behind groups of German tourists, I loved the fact that I could ring my bell to make them scatter and then whizz past yelling "danke" over my shoulder. Sweet revenge for all the times Logan and I have had our walks ruined by German cyclists who misunderstand the word "footpath".
  • Leonardo da Vinci airport has to be the most disorganised in the world - ironic really when it's namesake was such a forward thinking brainiac, maybe that's why it also goes by name 'Fiuminco'.
A final note, I asked Ben what he thought of Rome...I got a one word answer:


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Snaps 86

Possibly the most bizarre of the street entertainers we saw in Rome.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pizza for Lunch

Day 2 of our Rome trip:
Saturday after breakfast (the kids were delighted to find that Italian breakfast includes lemon cake, blackcurrant tart, croissants and nutella as well as the healthier options of fruit salad, yoghurt and cereal) we grabbed a taxi from the square behind the hotel and nipped over to Vatican City. Not to go in of course (one day I'll do the Vatican museums and the Sistene Chapel, but it'll be without the children in tow, so that I can take my time, and appreciate the art, rather than having to repeatedly tell them to shhhh and racing through before they get too bored) merely to say "been there, got that photo," after continuing our competition to see who could the most nuns/priests or Minis* we meandered our way down to the banks of the Tiber and strolled along in the sunshine past the various street entertainers and market stalls before crossing back and along to Piazza Navona for lunch.

2:15 was our meeting time for a tour of the catacombs and crypts (chosen to keep a ghoulish 14 yr old entertained). Mike was our guide from Walks of Italy and there were only 6 of us on the tour. We started off at the nunnery of St Priscilla where, beneath the buildings are catacombs - 100's of meters of tunnels underground where 1000's of Christians were once buried back in the 2nd century, these particular catacombs are famous for containing the first documented image of the Virgin Mary which apparently the Vatican are keen to remove it to the safety and sterility of their museum.
From the catacombs, where there are no longer any bodies (removed years ago for a proper burial by the Vatican, to prevent tourists wandering home with a tourist trinket that's more than just a pope on a rope) we headed back into the city of Rome to the Capuchin Crypt. This is a series of six rooms decorated with the bones of 4,000 Capuchin monks. You hear that and you think that the bones are just lying about maybe or piled up against the walls but no. Each of the rooms had a theme and each had at least five whole monk 'corpses' posed, most of these corpses were purely skeletal but some still had skin and hair, one in particular really didn't look like it had been dead 250 years (gossip has it that he's thought to have been especially holy which is why his body isn't decaying). In the last room there were three complete skeletons that were smaller than the others, one was the 'Princess of Rome' depicted on the ceiling as death and the other two were cousins of hers, all three little girls (none older than 9) had died around the same time and the Capuchin monks were asked by the Pope at the time to 'take care of his 3 nieces'.
Apparently a few years ago health and safety visited and decreed that although what was pinned to the walls could stay, they couldn't put any more bones up. It was the kind of place that had we visited it with no guide we'd have wandered in and been done with it in a matters of minutes, but with a guide we had the symbolism of every room explained to us (and many other tourists hanging off Mike's every word.)
Our last stop of the tour was the Basilica of St Clemente, this is somewhere else we'd never have stepped into without a guide let alone learnt so much. The current building that is visible above ground dates back to the 12th century, but it's built upon the remains of a 4th century church, which is in turn built over the remains of ancient Roman buildings, including the apartment where St Clemente (before his sainthood) back in the days of Emporer Trajan used to hold illegal Christian meetings, but there was also a temple to Mithras which was a new cult back in Clemente's day. This building was amazing, we were walking on original Roman flooring from the second century and even weirder, they think that beneath St Clemente's old floor is possibly another layer of ruins to be discovered, probably from Nero's time (apparently they kept finding burnt wood before they had to close down excavations last year due to funding issues) wow!
As you can see, Saturday was a pretty historical day, we still managed to fit in a pizza or two though!

* At the beginning of the trip I bet Jas that I could count more nuns/priests in Rome than she could Minis. We clearly didn't hang about the Vatican area (or 'Pope City' as I like to call it) long enough as Jas saw twice as many cars as I did people in black!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pizza for Breakfast

We've just spent 4 days in Rome, flew out Thursday lunchtime and got back in time for Jas to go trick 'n treating yesterday.

Si and I were in Rome together (without the children) a few years ago and I remember enjoying it then. Second time round didn't disappoint, I think it could be one of my favourite cities. The architecture there is stunning, the golden light (we were so lucky with the weather, blue skies every day and only in the evening walking to and from the restaurants did we need coats) is every photographer's dream, I love the narrow, winding streets with the tiny little shops and cafés and as for the food and the wine - I love going to a restaurant where the wine list is more comprehensive than the menu!

We spent our first afternoon (after dumping the bags in the hotel) meandering our way from the Spanish Steps (brilliant, central hotel location - La Perla on the corner and Prada at the end of the street, guess who chose the hotel?) through various streets until we ended up in Piazza Navona, a handy place for the first pizza (Ben) and first beer (me). Piazza Navona might be full of tourists and therefore subject to over inflated prices but it is a great place to watch the world - the variety of street entertainers in Rome has to be seen to be believed, from the bizarre - a person in a full length black cloak topped with a goat's head to the creative - a guy dressed as a cowboy statue (all his clothing and skin was the deep grey colour of metal, who, when you put money in his bowl, pulled you (Jas, not me) up onto his little podium and posed with you (lasso around neck and pistol aimed at head) then there were the two drummers who would suddenly freeze, only starting up again when they heard the tinkle of coins, a trio of street/hip hop dancers and numerous golden sarcophagus (sarcophagi?).

Dinner was in a restaurant recommended by a friend, her children had eaten chocolate pizza there and that was enough of a recommendation for our two. Il Brillo is down a tiny side street and looks nothing from the outside (but that's true of so many restaurants in Rome) then you go inside and down into the cellars where there is a warren of interconnecting rooms. I had handmade pasta with ragu and barolo and something else but I forget what the other ingredient was, it was sublime. Jas had her fave pasta carbonara and I don't think she'll be impressed ever again by the version she gets back home! Ben had his second pizza of the trip.
Often we don't bother with pudding but this was the chocolate pizza place so that had to be tried, I opted for the strawberry millefieulle, something I have never tried before, will definitely have that again.

Friday was another lovely sunny day, I had a bike tour booked and we had to be over in the area of the Coloseum for 9.15. Looking at the map there seemed to be a straightish route, unfortunately Simon was in charge of leading the Evans crew...we got there eventually (and were on time) is all that I will say. We were a group of 10, with Jas being the youngest but not necessarily the least competant rider, Bruno was our guide.
The cycling tour around inner rome was fun, although I think for Jas it was maybe at its worst scary (Rome inner city traffic) and at at its best dull (she struggled to understand the tour leader because his perfect english was marred by his perfect italian accent and I don't think she got how old bits of Rome are for that matter, but then since when did kids ever get 'age', how can someone who thinks 20 is old understand how amazing the Coloseum at 1,940 years old is?)
Personally, I had a great morning (when I wasn't worrying about whether the children were ok that is) we cycled for four hours around inner Rome, the Coloseum, Trajan's Column, Piazza Navona, the Panthenon, the Jewish ghetto, over the river into Trastevere and then back via the Roman Forum. Bruno had lots of history to tell us although a coffee/ice cream stop would have been nice.
We were supposed to make a stop in the Piazza del Popolo but the pensioners had decided to gather to complain about something and the square (and many of the streets) were full of blue rinses waving blue flags. It was quite bizarre, because come the evening the students had taken over and as we walked along Via del Corso to our restaurant there was a flood of cyclists heading down towards us, the majority riding normal bikes but the odd one or two on crazy contraptions, stretched high like for a circus, stretched long like for an easy rider style, even a tandem but no penny farthings.

After the bike ride we grabbed lunch (pizza no. 4 for Ben) and then wandered our way down to Giolitti's, an ice cream palace (they have chandeliers inside you know) we were in the middle of eating our mountains of ice cream (champagne & nougat flavours for me, baileys for Simon and double strawberry for Ben) when it became apparent that there was 'someone' at the table next but one to us, we'd never have realised (he's an Italian musician, Antonello Venditti) but for the numbers of women almost throwing themselves into his lap in order for them to have their photo taken with him, poor guy.

On our way back from our evening meal at another little backstreet restaurant (not quite as good as Il Brillo) we detoured through Piazza del Popolo (all cleaned up after the rioting pensioners) and outside the hotel at the top of Via del Babuino we came across another guy suffering the fate of fame, Franco Baldini (some football boss or so I'm told) having to have his photo taken whether he wanted it or not.

The price of fame, to be unable to go for an ice cream or even an evening stroll without being hounded by wannabe paparazzi!